the use of 'I'?

Avatar for Eska

======= Date Modified 10 Mar 2011 21:04:32 =======
Hello fellow PhDers,

I never used 'I' in my academic writing until my supervisor insisted on it, but doing so makes perfect sense to me now; in fact, I think student essays that don't read awkwardly. I don't mean 'I think', rather 'I will explore the relevance of' instead of 'this thesis (or however it may be phrased) will explore the relevance of' - the latter seems wrong to me now mostly because a thesis is inanimate and cannot explore, hence it is a grammatically incorrect phrase.

One of my teaching departments insists on the students use 'I' too.

Do you use 'I' in your writing, if so in what context do you use it and what subject are you? And does anyone know why we shouldn't?

I am arts/humanities and am curious to find out what other disciplines expect or allow.

Thanks in advance,

Esk x

Avatar for sneaks

I'm social sciences - in my field we are beginning to steal a bit from sociology, but not (as yet) go as far as "I" - I put "we" in publications, but somehow "I" in my thesis just seems so wrong. I've just learnt all about epistemology - well not 'all about' I've learnt the vague ideas and it seems because my field is very positivist we all use "it" or "this research" rather than we/I.

However, at the end of my thesis I am planning to do a reflexive section where I talk about my experiences of the research (and I'm dreading it)


I use 'I', depending on whether I'm reflecting and/or writing qualitative research. I've never understood the academic snobbery surround the use of the word 'I'. Some of the most important philosophical texts of our time have first person elements.


Am in the social sciences, and I absolutely, completely, use I. It's compelling, persuasive and offers a narrative that's personal to the reader, when it's needed.


My thesis is science based and it seems correct for it not to be personalised. The journals in this area are still published with this academic de-personalisation style, so I guess it will be one of the last areas to be infiltrated by 'I' and 'we'.


There are plenty of articles on the net that discuss the negatives of passive writing and the differences between telling and showing a story ... I think if you are the author then there is no problem with 'I', multiple authors would obviously be 'We'.

As long as the story is told is the most productive way (and it is accurate) then I see no problem with using active voice, in fact my University much prefers it.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

I was always under the impression that writing in the first person for fact-based discussions (theses, papers, reports) was considered unprofessional. Back at M.Sc., my supervisor said it was becoming okay to write in the first person, however, I decided against.

The subject was never broached when it came to Ph.D. sometime later. I've seen it the odd time and whilst it doesn't really bother me, it does seem strange and I'm not 100% comfortable with it.

First person writing to me is for stories and novels, where you're trying to identify with a character.


But stories and novels are not necessarily fiction.

Accurately and effectively communicating your ideas is paramount.

I was taught at school to always write experiments in passive voice. But when I am communicating ideas I use active. It is more effective and engaging.


I never use 'I' but was considering doing so for my thesis. I thought it would be particularly appropriate in the introduction when I was talking about the motivation for undertaking this study. To use the third person here seemed silly. I broached the subject with my supervisor but he was totally against the idea. He said it might annoy a more traditional examiner!

I decided to leave it but reading my introduction and methodology in particular I think sound clunky :-(


I am only coming around to the use of 'I' in writing with academia. I have seen several journals that accept it (Business area) if the term fits the discussion style. For instance, if they are writing an ethnography, you should see 'I/we' in there, or if they are writing from a more positivist approach then I/we will not appear.
I asked my supervisors the same thing. They both agreed that they didn't really like it, but that it should be used when warranted (reflexive writing or very specifically relates to 'the research' but sounds less clunky to say 'I').


I've not yet used I in the thesis and will try and avoid it (to inbuilt into me now!). I used "we" in my upgrade report and got pulled up on it as it made me sound like it was not my own work.


I'm in social sciences and I was discussing this with my supervisor last week. 'I' is OK, and he also told me he thinks its better to keep things simple and use e.g. 'in' instead of 'within' and so on because he finds it pretentious to do otherwise. However he also said that I have to respect the fact that it is a PhD thesis and so in opening paragraphs of chapters etc to use 'this chapter' etc instead of 'I'. After spending ages giving me this advice he then told me that actually it is completely up to me and I don't have to accept all of the advice he gives me. He can be confusing at times, haha.


I've never used 'I' in formal writing. I've always thought it was not the best approach to take. I would probably feel quite uncomfortable using 'I'.


======= Date Modified 11 Mar 2011 11:50:17 =======
I use the first person when I feel that the flow of the writing is better served by it. For instance, it doesn't make sense to talk about our previous work in the third person/passive voice, so I would say "We recently demonstrated that...". I think when you describe what you're going to tell the reader, the first person's good for that. "In the first chapter, I will review recent evidence for..." sounds better than "Recent evidence for ... will be reviewed in the first chapter".
My personal opinion is that it gives you a better connection with the reader - after all, if you were giving a talk, it wouldn't even be up for debate whether or not to use the first person.

ETA: Just wanted to add, as an undergrad I never used the first person, but I switched during my final exams. It's so much easier to get in to the main part of an essay if you don't have to worry about always using the passive voice in the intro - you just tell the reader what you know. Dunno if it's relevant, but I'm in Psychology/Cognitive Neuroscience.


I used 'I' in my thesis. Took quite a bit of getting used to, as I was always taught to write in the passive voice. Now I much prefer it though, especially when talking about data collection and analysis - makes it more engaging.